Kevin W. Fogg

Islamic History in Southeast Asia


By Kevin W. Fogg, Nov 14 2016 11:01AM

This blog entry has the potential to confuse lots of people and alienate lots more, so I wanted to separate it from the previous one, but it’s one worth writing to spur real conversation.

There is another key characteristic of Donald Trump that sets him apart from all his predecessors in the Oval Office: he is the first president elected in the US with no previous history in elected office, appointed political office, or military command for the United States. Basically, he’s never been in government before, at all, on any level. That is a big deal, and a major departure in our political history. Even President Obama was criticized in 2008 for having “only” two years in the Senate, plus some time as a state legislator—his opponents said this was not enough preparation to lead the whole government. Of course, Trump has made the case that his years as a business executive (often working directly under his father) not only fulfill the leadership prerequisite but also are indeed better than the corrupting experience of working in government (especially in Washington, a.k.a. “the Swamp”). Coming from entirely outside the government made him the big “change” candidate this year.

There is an obvious analogy to this in Indonesian history: a president whose (indirect) election surprised everyone, who had no experience in government but did have other leadership experience (following the footsteps of his father), and who was the ultimate “change” candidate. That man was Abdurrahman Wahid, affectionately called “Gus Dur” (“gus” being the title for the son of a religious scholar, “Dur” being an abbreviation of Abdurrahman), elected in 1999.

This will be radical and probably offensive to some. I do not want to draw a moral equivalency between Gus Dur and Donald Trump. Gus Dur was a good man and a pious man (although quite quirky). he respected human rights (unlike Donald Trump), respected women, and respected democracy (again, it seems, unlike Donald Trump). Many of the great moral teachings of Gus Dur are still relevant in Indonesian society. (Remember “Tuhan tak perlu dibela”—was anyone saying that on 4 November?) I support the effort by PKB to name Gus Dur as a national hero. However, I think there are structural comparisons to be made, and they might even be informative when thinking about some of the weaknesses of a Trump presidency (or any future Trump wannabes in Indonesia).

Gus Dur had plenty of leadership experience in society, having been the chairman of the mass Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama for decades (like his father and grandfather before him) and a moral leader of the anti-Suharto movement. That experience, however, did not translate into a smooth or successful administration, though. I think it is fair to say that Gus Dur was great at being a moral leader, and pretty bad at being president. Of course, one could put forward other reasons for this: the bureaucracy probably opposed him, the tasks were so great as Indonesia transitioned to democracy, and Gus Dur was too reliant on a few advisors (Greg Barton’s biography links this to his diabetic blindness, which meant others had to read out documents and reports to him). Still, without a proper understanding of how the government worked, he failed to run it effectively. This is something I can easily imagine happening in a Trump administration.

Secondly, Gus Dur was pretty unpredictable. That meant even his allies never knew where they were going to be dragged next, which is a difficult position for allies to be in. This alienated quite a few of the people who had supported Gus Dur in the indirect election (in the Indonesian parliament) which made him president, and eventually led to his impeachment by that same house. (He was removed as president in 2001, and went on to a choppy term as leader of the Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa, as recently outlined by my colleague Firman Noor.) I don’t think anyone will deny that Donald Trump is also unpredictable as a political figure, and that he has a penchant for offending even leaders of his own party. (During the Vice-Presidential Debate, Trump’s own running-mate did not seem to know many of the man’s positions, and Donald Trump soon publically repudiated a statement that Mike Pence had put forward on behalf of the ticket.) This may very well have negative consequences in the US, as it did in Indonesia.

Again, I do not want to make a point of moral equivalency; I explicitly reject any moral equivalency between Abdurrahman Wahid and Donald Trump. However, structurally, there is a good argument to be made about the ways that lack of governmental experience, “change,” quixotic character, and electoral surprise make Gus Dur the closest analogue to Donald Trump in recent Southeast Asia.

By Kevin W. Fogg, Nov 14 2016 08:34AM

While I've been out in the field on research, it has been very hard to post on the blog; many apologies for those hoping for more updates. I hope to add a few things this week to make up for lost time.

I, like so many of my countrymen (including the majority of those who voted), was surprised and perhaps even mildly disappointed about the unexpected win by Donald Trump in the American presidential elections. International commentary has largely focused on related trends in Europe. Many folks have connected the triumph of populism in the US to the triumph of nativism in the UK’s recent EU membership referendum. Former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi has happily welcomed comparisons between his political profile and Donald Trump.

Of course while living in Southeast Asia, I have been thinking about leaders in this region who might be seen as analogous to Donald Trump. Here I put forward three possible points of comparison (in inverse order to their leap to national elections).

Over the last year, many commentators have looked at the occasionally foul-mouthed President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, as analogous to Trump’s insult-filled campaign. Duterte (somewhat like the American president-elect) enjoys insulting incumbent American president Barack Obama, American diplomatic staff, American foreign policy, and lots of other things. Both Trump and Duterte have had troubles staying on the Pope’s good side. Both men are fairly populist; both have encouraged violence in society to tackle perceived problems; and both have said problematic things about women. Recently, Duterte had a calling from God to tone down his language; it is as yet unclear if president-elect Trump will undergo a similar transformation. Another key difference: Duterte had decades of experience in government, by being the mayor of his hometown, Davao City. (Fun fact: Duterte has been open to the comparison, even while he feels he is just a “small molecule” compared to Trump.)

In the lead-up to election day, as Trump was threatening to reject the election results as rigged (if he lost), I was thinking quite a bit about Indonesian former general, party leader, and losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto. Both Prabowo and Trump have authoritarian tendencies, of course, and I think the term “Oligarchic Populism” could be applied to both. But Prabowo’s intransigent denial of the election results that saw him lose the presidency in 2014 looked to me like a model for the kind of court case and contentious public conflict that could have appeared if Trump followed through on threats to reject any losing outcome. There are also some interesting arguments to be made here about their tortured relationship with the press: certainly both know how to work the media, but Prabowo was supported in the end only by TVOne (owned by another Indonesian oligarch to whom he was politically allied) and called all other media horrendously biased, while Trump seemed to reject the whole media establishment except his personal buddies (most notably Sean Hannity). The comparison really ended on election day, though; Indonesia chose (by a narrower than expected margin) to embrace a different kind of populism in President Joko Widodo, while the American electoral college fell to Trump. There were other differences, too, though. Prabowo was famously good at controlling him temper on the political stage (although not behind the scenes, apparently)—I remember how he had even encouraged Megawati Soekarnoputri to play nice on TV when he was her running mate in 2009. Prabowo’s background in public life and military service, also, was markedly different from Trump’s media and business profile. (Another fun connection: two of Prabowo’s close political allies, Fadli Zon and Setya Novanto, claimed at a political rally in the lobby of Trump Tower in 2015 that the Indonesian people like Trump “very much.”)

The most surprising connection, for me, was made by a friend in Thailand several weeks ago, who compared Donald Trump to former prime minister and now famed persona-non-grata Thaksin Shinawatra. (Apparently colleagues at New Mandala had already made this comparisonand more in Thai politics.) In terms of personal résumé, I was struck by the similarities: big-city billionaires who appealed to rural, working-class constituencies to the consternation of other national elites and liberal urban centers. Thaksin was involved in politics longer, certainly, and was unrivalled within his popular Thai Rak Thai Party, but their rise to power was still a bit of a surprise. As many people are fearing from a Trump presidency, when in power he was accused of playing favorites, being capricious, and most dangerously using the state apparatus to benefit his own business empire. His political movement has been so strong and so controversial in Thailand that it has prompted two army coups: both the one against him in 2006 (since which time he has not come back to the country to face pending charges) and the second against his sister (and political heir) in 2014. Let us hope that a Trump presidency in America does not become so very polarizing.

So, is Donald Trump the Thaksin of America? The Prabowo of the United States? Or New York’s own Duterte? I look forward to input from others, either here or on Facebook.

By Kevin W. Fogg, Jul 11 2014 06:07PM

The Indonesian presidential election is entering a new round of competition after an overall very successful day of voting on Wednesday. This new phase will involve machinations among the political elite, lots of bureaucratic churning, and intense activity among the grassroots to try and monitor the process.

At the political elite level, several of the plays are already apparent, but some others remain a bit of a mystery. As noted by my esteemed colleagues at the New Mandala blog, Profs. Ed Aspinall and Marcus Meitzner, who have been providing the best analysis on this election by far, it is clear that Jokowi won this election in terms of votes. The four ‘quick count’ results put out by survey organizations that claimed Prabowo’s ticket won were all by organizations with very checkered pasts and with clear ties to Prabowo’s political-business nexus—clearly this was a ploy. (Granted, some of the eight ‘quick count’ results that made it clear Jokowi won the popular vote were also from polling organizations with ties to Jokowi, for example CSIS whose executive director Rizal Sukma has been on Jokowi’s ‘success team’. Still, those organizations, particularly CSIS and SMRC, are the oldest and most reliable pollsters in the country, and their results mirror almost exactly the results from entirely non-partisan, self-funded groups, like the government’s Radio Republic Indonesia and the country’s most prestigious daily paper Kompas. All agree that Jokowi won by around 52.5% to Prabowo’s 47.5% – a difference of perhaps 6 million votes.) So, Prabowo claiming victory on Wednesday was clearly a move for show; there is no way that this very intelligent man honestly believes that he won the popular vote.

Other high-level political leaders have now started making their moves, too. President SBY called both presidential tickets to his private residence on Wednesday — important because it was the first time he held a meeting with Jokowi and his running mate Jusuf Kalla (SBY’s Vice-President in his first term) since the campaign season started. This is important, because SBY still has plenty of political clout, plus the bureaucracy certifying the result still technically reports to him. He is likely trying to broker a solution between the two sides, but having openly supported Prabowo in the general election he might not be a fair broker.

Another big national voice in the last few days has been Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (commonly known as Ahok), Jokowi’s long-time vice-governor in Jakarta and set to become governor when Jokowi jumps to the presidency. Ahok, despite coming from Prabowo’s party, has refused to congratulate Prabowo (or, admittedly, Jokowi) on winning, and has said that the losing team should admit it and avoid making any trouble. He has also undertaken a quick and serious reshuffle among Jakarta’s top jobs, making it look like he is very ready to assume the governorship immediately.

Of course, another major move in the media yesterday was for both presidential candidates to express their strong support for Palestinians in the current conflict and humanitarian crisis there. Jokowi went first when he requested the current president and foreign minister call for mediation and a cessation of all hostilities, and Prabowo – not to be outdone – announced that along with one of his very well-heeled political supporters he would donate 1 billion Indonesian Rupiah (about $100,000 USD) to Gaza.

On the bureaucratic level, the process will churn slowly. Elections are generally administered just fine in Indonesia, and always better when the election is more high-profile. There has been some concern after the legislative elections that the initial allocation of seats was done fairly, but that the second-round allocation (for individual candidates with lower vote totals) might have been played by some initially-losing candidates and their supporters buying or selling votes before the second round. Such slippages in the local data are unlikely to happen in this presidential round. There is much more close oversight this time, meaning that incongruences should turn up quicker and be corrected. The Electoral Commission (KPU) anticipates compiling data from all provinces over the next week and announcing the official winner on July 22. For one week after that date, the losing party has the right to lodge protests to the Constitutional Court. Those cases will need to be settled, though, by the time of the planned inauguration in October.

Societal action will be crucial in the current phase, too. Already, societal groups are proving active in overseeing the counting process. On the day of the election, each polling place tallies the votes in front of any local citizens who want to watch, and enters the results on a form called the C1. The Election Commission is putting up scans of all the C1s on a website, and intrepid bloggers have started flagging C1s that look sketchy. (These are often C1s with all the signatures but none of the numbers filled in, or C1 forms where the vote totals for each candidate do not sum to the overall vote total below, including one where Prabowo’s votes seems to have added a mysterious ‘8’ in the hundreds column that is not accounted for in the overall tally.) Unfortunately, some areas that strongly supported Prabowo lost C1 forms before the election; in one place over 100 of them have gone missing. This means that citizens are also making sure that the reports from their local polling station match their memory (or direct observation) when the count took place in front of a crowd on Wednesday.

The other activity already happening all over Facebook is repeated calls for calm, warnings against provocation, and assertions that as winners they don’t need to worry about what happens next. This seems largely aimed to head off social unrest that could further complicate a transparent voting process.

All three of these levels—political, bureaucratic, and societal—will continue to work towards the eventual announcement of certified results on July 22 and whatever comes afterwards.

By Kevin W. Fogg, Jul 9 2014 01:18PM

I’m sure that other colleagues will have much more to say about this because they have been on the ground (I’ve been following entirely from England), but there have been a couple of regional surprises in the election results today. I’ve been looking at the provincial-level results from two reliable quick-counts: RRI and Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting. (Others, like Kompas, are not breaking down their data.)

The five provinces with the highest results for Jokowi-JK are (by percentage of the vote for ticket #2), according to the RRI quick count:

1. West Sulawesi (82.54% RRI)

2. Bali (69.17% RRI)

3. South Sulawesi (68.26% RRI)

4. East Nusa Tenggara (67.63% RRI)

5. Papua (67.20% RRI)

The SMRC list looks a tiny bit different:

1. West Sulawesi (74.61% SMRC)

2. Bali (73.47% SMRC)

3. West Papua (70.73% SMRC)

4. South Sulawesi (70.08% SMRC)

5. Bangka-Belitung (69.17% SMRC)

Note that the majority of these are in Eastern Indonesia, which is Jusuf Kalla’s home base. (His home province, South Sulawesi, not only went strongly for Jokowi-JK, but also has a pretty large population.) Bali is no surprise; this is a province that has supported Megawati Soekarnoputri and her party (PDI-P, the party that nominated Jokowi) very strongly, and they were bound to do that in this election.

It is worth noting that Central Java, Jokowi’s home province, also went strongly for his ticket (65.72% SMRC, 65.66% RRI), and this populous province means an awful lot of votes. The reason it doesn’t appear in the top five on either list, though, is because so many provinces broke so hard toward Jokowi-JK. Eleven provinces (out of 33) gave ticket #2 more than 60% in one or both quick counts; in addition to the ones above, there were Bengkulu (birthplace of Megawati’s mother), East Kalimantan (near Kalla’s home base), Southeast Sulawesi (ditto).

The five provinces with the highest results for Prabowo-Hatta are (by percentage of the vote for ticket #1):

1. West Sumatra (74.27% SMRC, 77.58% RRI)

2. West Nusa Tenggara (i.e., Lombok and Sumbawa) (72.49% SMRC, 71.77% RRI)

3. North Maluku (60.81% SMRC, only 48.5% here on RRI—losing—a major discrepancy) / Gorontalo (60.62% RRI, only 55.44% with SMRC, which is still impressive)

4. West Java (59.64% SMRC, 59.55% RRI)

5. Banten (56.48% SMRC, 57.07% RRI)

Aside from the surprising discrepancy between SMRC and RRI on the results from North Maluku (probably due to the province’s small size—SMRC only sampled 18 polling stations there, for example), the big stories here are West Sumatra and West Nusa Tenggara. Neither Prabowo nor Hatta is from these provinces nor has particular family connections there, so what might explain these high numbers? Incidentally, these are both provinces I know pretty well and have spent significant time in, but not during this election season.

Jeff Hadler of UC-Berkeley, who certainly knows West Sumatra better than I do, has joked / speculated on Facebook whether the citizens there were thinking back to the PRRI rebellion of 1958-61, in which Prabowo’s father was a minister (but based abroad, not on Sumatra) and which is definitely still a living memory in West Sumatra where it was based. Although possible, strong party networks seem a likelier culprit, much to the chagrin of us historians.

In NTB, I wonder if we should point to the strong political network of the Nahdlatul Wathan, which might have been able to whip votes very effectively?

Another quasi-surprise was that Aceh preferred Prabowo-Hatta to Jokowi-JK (Prabowo winning with 52.5% SMRC, 52.48% RRI—about the same percentage as Hatta Rajasa’s home province of South Sumatra). Jusuf Kalla was instrumental in the peace negotiations in 2005, so one would expect that he would have sway here. As it happens, though, Kalla did not win the province at the top of the ticket in 2009, so maybe it shouldn’t surprise that he wasn’t able to win here in 2014 at the bottom of the ticket. More surprising should be why Aceh, never particularly fond of the Indonesian armed forces, should vote for a former general in the presidential race. I leave that to wiser Aceh hands to answer.

The top two provinces with the highest turnout have been Yogyakarta and Jakarta (no surprise—urban districts mean easier transportation to polling places). Surprisingly high has been Papua (above 80% in the RRI quick count, and above 75% in SMRC). There had been some movement afoot to encourage a boycott in this province, so the especially high participation should be seen as a victory for democratic participation.

By Kevin W. Fogg, Jul 9 2014 11:05AM

I've been on pins and needles for the better part of a week waiting for the Indonesian presidential elections. This morning (British time-- afternoon Indonesia time) we have had both good news and less-good news, so I'm only half-ready to exhale.

The good news is that it seems that ticket #2 of Joko Widodo - Jusuf Kalla has won. Jokowi, as we like to call him, has taken 52.67% according to RRI/Republika, 52.93% according to Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting, and 52.34% according to the Kompas Quick Count (entirely self-funded by Kompas so as to be neutral). Various other organizations that I trust also have Jokowi-JK leading by about 5 points over the ticket of Prabowo Subianto - Hatta Rajasa. These results are not official, government certified results, of course; rather, they are so-called 'quick counts', whereby observers at each polling station (or at a representative sample of polling stations) call in with the actual vote totals after the public counting at that station. This has proven a highly reliable method for the last three national elections, within 2% of the official result each time. This means that Jokowi's +/-5% margin should be safe beyond the margin of error.

However, the less-good news is that the losing ticket, headed by Prabowo Subianto, is refusing to concede, and in fact has declared Prabowo as the winner. This is based on the incomplete results of three less reliable firms who conducted quick counts connected to media owned by Prabowo's political allies and being broadcast almost exclusively on that media. The margins here are tighter, saying that Prabowo leads by only 1-1.5%. Prabowo has also made brazen attack the news media (specifically outlets that have already hailed Jokowi as winner, and news media that he feels has been biased against him throughout the campaign). This, combined with Prabowo's bad reputation and his recent statement that 'Losing is not an option' are reason enough for me to feel concerned.

The folks I trust, like Ed Aspinall of ANU and Alex Arifianto in Singapore, are still confident that Jokowi has won and that the margin is beyond the ability of anyone to change the outcome by dirty tricks, challenges, or underhanded moves. I hope and pray that they are right. More analysis of some specific voting trends in a little bit.

The thoughts and opinions presented on this blog do not represent any institutions or other organization with which I am affiliated.  They are mine and mine alone, and should not be copied or reprinted (beyond fair use) without my written permission.  My hope is that these entries will help to further discussion about Southeast Asia, Islamic history, academia in a time of technological change, and other subjects worthy of attention.

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The image above comes from a manuscript of Dala'il al-Khayrat, probably copied in West Sumatra in the first half of the twentieth century and now in the collection of Prof. Bruce B. Lawrence.